On April 19, 1985, Elie Wiesel accepted the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement from President Ronald Reagan. At that ceremony, Wiesel publicly urged the president to forego his plan to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, where members of the SS lay. “That place, Mr. President, is not your place. . . Your place is with the victims of the SS.” From the publication of his memoir, "Night," through his passing, Elie Wiesel spoke truth to hatred. He constantly reminded us to worry about hatred, and he required us to remember the horror of the Holocaust. In 1986, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
In mourning his passing, President Obama said: “He raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms. . . He implored each of us, as nations and as human beings, to do the same, to see ourselves in each other and to make real that pledge of ‘never again.’”
[Elie Wiesel] raised his voice, not just against anti-Semitism, but against hatred, bigotry and intolerance in all its forms. . .President Obama
Wiesel believed that he had survived, in part, to tell. He recognized that a single, courageous voice speaking truth against hatred and power was of real value. He also wondered, throughout his life, about the silence of so many as the Holocaust unfolded. Part of the “never again” pledge is about speaking up to hatred and refusing to stand by as horror unfolds.
Wiesel’s life stands in stark contrast to the conspiratorial silence of the GOP leadership in the face of Donald Trump’s hateful campaign for president. This past weekend (of all weekends), Donald Trump tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton’s face superimposed on a mountain of cash next to a Star of David, emblazoned with the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever.” CNN reports that the Trump tweet took the image of the star, which has since been changed to a circle, from a white supremacist source. Hillary Clinton condemned the tweet. GOP leaders -- Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Mitch McConnell and so forth -- remained silent through the weekend.
Crooked Hillary — Makes History! #ImWithYou #AmericaFirst pic.twitter.com/PKQhYhMmIX
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2016
Silence is not enough. Donald Trump seethes in a manner that requires a vigorous response. How can the leaders of the GOP be silent in the face of his comments about Muslims? How can they tolerate his misogyny? How can they allow their party to succumb to a campaign whose rhetoric is premised on insult? How can they forgive his refusal to immediately reject the support of Klansman David Duke? How can they not, in the face of journalistic verification of his use of a white supremacist image, say aloud that this will not stand? Where is their courage? Who took their voices away?
It seems apt to draw the connection between the silence in the face of horror that haunted Wiesel and the silence of the senior GOP leaders that we now confront.
The former presidents in the GOP will not attend the convention that nominates Donald Trump. The most recent GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, will not attend. Jeb Bush will not attend. Gov. John Kasich will not say whether he will attend. Somehow, it seems, these men have decided that avoidance is the same as opposition. It is as if, by simply closing their eyes, they can wish away what they have allowed to happen. It seems apt to draw the connection between the silence in the face of horror that haunted Wiesel and the silence of the senior GOP leaders that we now confront.
In the end, we can take comfort in the fact of an election; and we can trust that the voters will not be silent in the face of Trump’s vile campaign. But right now, at this moment, we should all loudly condemn the cowardice of the GOP leaders, and we should call on them not to stay home. Wiesel’s death demands that we attend his words. He said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” It is time for the GOP’s leaders to interfere. They should go to Cleveland, and they should speak their minds and hearts. Unless, of course, they are prepared to be complicit.